Tag Archives: London

European myths and legends

Europe is teeming with myths and legends. Tales of kings, gnomes, elves, wolves and witches are everywhere in the castle-filled Europe. But its not only old myths – modern myths are here as well. As you can probably guess, these modern myths hold about as much truth as the old ones. Here are some of those modern myths about Europe.

  1. Holland is all about drugs and hookers
    When I told my grandma I was going to the Netherlands to study, she started crying. I said: “But grandma – why? You’ve always wanted me to study, so what’s wrong?”. “Its all drugs and hookers there”, the old woman cried – “I’ve seen it on TV!”. I did my best to reassure her. I said: “But grandma – its all drugs and hookers here as well”. That brought her right back to her senses. She stopped crying and said: “You’re right. The TV is all lies anyway”. Despite both prostitution and cannabis being legal in the Netherlands, the consumption of both here is actually around or even slightly below the European average.
  2. London is full of rich people
    This myth is fuelled by the high concentration of Russian billionaires and football players in London. The capital of the grandest Empire of all times is also full of Imperial Glory in the shape of grand buildings, museums and fancy shops. Sad truth is, that most Londoners are poor people. Even those with a good job in the City pay half of their salary to rent a shared apartment (not even their own!) and endure an hour’s ride each way in the rush hour Tube to and from work. You can’t call that being rich.
  3. Eastern Europe is poor
    This myth is especially popular in… Eastern Europe! True, on average, income is significantly lower in Eastern European countries. But the reality is not as black as some would make you believe. The GDP per capita in Bulgaria, for example, is about 7,000 USD. Corrected for Purchasing Power Parity (that is, the actual prices of goods, which are significantly lower in the East), the GDP PPP in Bulgaria is over 15,000 USD! That is still rather low compared to Western Europe, but the differences are not that big anymore. And another thing – the more one moves to the East (and South) of Europe, the higher the share of non-documented economy – the untaxed, unreported income. In Russia it may be as big as the official economy according to some reports! So no, Eastern Europe is not as poor as you might think by looking at the dry numbers.

    Eastern Europe? No, Holland (at -12 C)!

    Eastern Europe? No, Holland (at -12 C)!

  4. Europeans are skinny
    Mostly believed by Americans, this myth is only partially true. Yes, compared to Americans, Europeans are skinny. But Europe is competing with the U.S. for first place in the obesity crisis. In every country in the EU, more than 50% of men are overweight, and almost everywhere more than 40% of women. The UK is hit especially hard, with numbers approaching the USA. Even in France and Italy, countries praised for their healthy food, more than 10% of the population is obese and the numbers are rising dramatically.
  5. Europeans are well-dressed
    Again, a myth mostly believed by a specific group, this time visitors from SE Asia (and, again, many Americans). Compared to SE Asia, where its nothing unusual to do your shopping dressed in a pygama (mint green, with blue teddy bears or purple, with yellow chicks), Europeans are haute couture. In reality, almost everywhere on the continent, people dress casually. Business districts see more suits and there may be less sweatpants and sneakers on the streets that in North America, but outside the city centre in any European country there is plenty of Adidas fashion walking around. Geographically, as you go Eastwards, sweatpants become less and less the exception until, in Russia, they become the norm.

These are just five of the many, many modern myths about Europe. Have you heard any myths you found out to be untrue? Or have a myth you particularly like? Do share it please!

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The British Isles

Of the bite-sized regions I’ve divided Europe into, the British Isles are seemingly the least diverse. Just two coutries (UK and Ireland), one language (supposedly, English) and a uniformly depressing climate don’t appear too varied. But appearances can be deceiving. The countries of the British Isles may have only two embassies, but they do possess 5 national football teams, and national pride runs high, especially among the Scottish. Not to mention Northern Ireland. While everyone on the Isles speaks English, there are countless variations of it, to great frustration of the tourist who thinks he or she has mastered the language of Shakespeare yet can’t understand a word that’s being said. And oh, the climate. While some of the wettest locations in Europe are in the highlands of Scotland, London actually gets less rain than Rome. Let’s just say the climate adds variety to the British life. Never a dull moment – that’s the motto of the local weather.

 

  • Why go there?
    Americans and Australians favour the Isles as they offer a “soft landing” – culturally and linguistically speaking. The harsh reality is that the differences turn out to be rather noticeable, as this blogger found out. But experiencing these differences has a charm of its own. Plus there’s really a lot to see and do here. Like top-notch surfing sites in Ireland, superb hiking in Scotland, some of the world’s best beaches in Wales and, of course, London.
  • What’s it best for?
    To me, the greatest attraction of the British Isles is not the history, not the culture, not the drinking or the football, although all of these are generously offered. I go here for laughs. Seriously, this is the most humorous corner of the globe I’ve ever been to. This is where Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll and many more come from. And it shows – the locals appreciate a good joke and are always prepared with one of their own. I occasionally do extreme ironing. In Belgium I was ignored, in Switzerland I was mocked, but here people genuinely appreciated me coming with an ironing board, and cheered me up all the way to the top of Ben Nevis.
  • When is the best time to go?
    July and August are the warmest, but May and June are the driest, so make your bet. Be warned though – London has seen summer temperatures over 35 degrees in the last few years and the tube is really no fun in such weather.
  • How to get around?
    British Railways are not famous for comfort, precision or speed, and the highways are rather congested. Plus fuel prices are ridiculously high (as pretty much everywhere in Europe), so driving 1000 miles to the Highlands may be pricey. Fortunately, this is where budget airlines have been invented, and all the major cities are well connected. Fly, but remember to read the fine print!
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    Some have difficulties distinguishing the British summer from the winter. Not the place to go to if you’re looking for weather guarantees.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Stick to London. Hell, you can spend a year in this city and not ever be bored!

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Is London just another small European country?

London? Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins… LONDON.

Of course, one might wonder how come London is listed as a destination in what is supposed to be a list of countries? Well, when I’ve told people where we’ve been to (or were planning going to), I always started with London followed by a list of “proper” countries, and no one was ever surprised. Some people even say they will go to London and from there to Europe, implying that the great city is not even a part of Europe!

The funny thing is that we did not even want to go to London. The only reason we were there is that in the bizarro world of Round-The-World tickets it was actually cheaper to take the train to London, spend the night there and start the flying from Heathrow!

Since we were going there anyway, we had a plan for our visit. Not as extensive as some people’s plans for London, but I think it was a good plan. The plan was to go to Selfridges to see with our own eyes the Xmas department open and running in August and to meet Kristian. Yes, it’s a small plan. But we were only going to spend one evening there, so get off my back!

Kristian deserves a special detour. The guy seems to be on a quest to collect every European country into his resume. Of mixed Serbian, Bulgarian, Spanish and Portuguese ancestry, he was born in Sweden, grew up in Germany and France and Lord knows where else, lives in Holland and co-accidentally he was spending a month in London just as we were visiting there. Can you follow? I don’t. Told you he’s on a quest.

Well, the rest of the story is not that interesting. We’ve met Kristian, had a few beers, went to Selfridges (see the photo’s) and it was raining. London.

August, London Xmas shopping season is open

Yes, they play Xmas songs all day. In August.

The next morning we’ve taken the tube (can’t leave London without taking the tube) to the busiest airport in Europe and the round-the-world tour really kicked off. On to Ukraine!

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Two tickets around the world, please

Exactly two years ago me and the missus departured on our amazing, long, tiring, exciting round-the-world trip. We’ve been away for about a year, and seen and done a myriad things. By now, the experiences have settled down a bit and I’ve decided to relive the experience by writing about every country we’ve visited. In the coming months, amongst the posts about life in a small European country, every now and then some travel posts will be popping up. Some of these will be connected to the life of SEC, others not, in any case I’ll do my best to write personal stories about the people we encountered on the way and not the regular “got up at 9, went to see X, had lunch, it was hot” travel weblog.

We’ve started from our home town of Rotterdam. Since recently I am writing for Spotted by Locals about my favourite spots here, so there’s no need to dedicate a special weblog entry to it. Check out the site – it has tips from locals from more than 40 cities worldwide! Next stop – London!

One of my favourite spots in Rotterdam

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The roads most travelled

Its funny how you travel to a bunch of places and when you tell someone where you go to or have been to, you name a city like Amsterdam in a single breath within a list of countries. Everybody does it. The reason? City branding. Some cities are doing their best to be branded as a separate identity, recognizable separately from the country they lie in. This disassociation is so strong, that I have my travel photos organized by countries and I have a country named “London”. Didn’t think about it for a second, it just seemed so natural that I’ve only noticed it months later.

The result is that there are some cities, that are in fact small countries on their own. When you tell someone that you’ve been to Barcelona, they don’t ask (and don’t care) in which country it is. The city has enough to offer on its own. What are these city-countries? Not surprisingly, these are the places that are most visited by tourists. Here’s my list of the 7 country-like cities in Europe, the ones that need no further introduction:

    • Xmas shopping in August

      London – You know: fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins… LONDON. The capital of the largest empire ever has the most exotic vibe of all the places I’ve been to. My experiences in London are rather one-sided though. On my first visit the weather was too good to stay indoors so I spent most of my time there doing yoga in parks. My second time there I was just passing by, so I went to Selfridges, to see with my own eyes the Xmas department open in August. A wonderful sight.

    • Paris – The city of lights and all that. Sounds very romantic, though I have no first-hand experience except that its hellish to drive around when you go on vacation.
    • Istanbul – Sadly, so far it is yet another destination on my bucket list.
    • Rome – Same as Istanbul. My parents loved it though.
    • Barcelona– Another place I haven’t been to. My better half has been there multiple times and swears by it, so I guess I will go there sooner than later.
    • The city of sin lies peacefully in the sun

      Amsterdam – A charming little place with a devilish image. Has a reputation of a place where anything goes. Though with the city council cleansing the Red Lights to make it more attrative for DINKY’s and the government tightening the screws on the coffeeshops, things are not as wild as they used to be.

    • Moscow – In Russia they say “there’s Moscow, there’s St. Petersburg and there’s Russia”, meaning that the realities of the two capitals have nothing to do with the rest of the country. I can not testify to what it is like in Moscow now, but twenty years ago I was thoroughly not impressed. I remember it mostly as “untidy” and I can not imagine that having changed but for the worse.

These are the 7 cities in Europe most visited by foreign tourists. I’ve compared the tourism statistics to the various lists of Global Cities, supposedly the most important nodes in the economic system. Globally as well as on European level the lists are rather different. The reason is probably the economic basis of the Global City lists. But the tourist, the general public, does not care whether a city is a major economic hub. The tourist wants to have fun. So Brussels and Berlin, high on the power lists, do not appear in the top of the tourist destinations, and Amsterdam, the smallest on my list, does.

What does the comparison show? Firstly, that in Europe at least, the tourism top, the creme de la creme, is the same as on the power scale. It’s London, Paris and the rest. Secondly, this crude attractiveness scale demonstrates that power (meaning: money) is not everything. To become a place-to-be, a city needs more than just having the government and the banks. In this day and age, branding is everything and the last thing you want is to be branded as dull (government and banks are dull). Thirdly, and lastly, the most important and perhaps surprising conclusion is that I need to do more travelling. For almost 10 years I’m living in the heart of Europe and I still haven’t been to Paris. Shame on me.

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